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my kid can’t draw

For a competitive person, having kids can be a bear. I notice when kids Finn’s age can do things that he can’t. I don’t ever make an issue of it to Finn, of course. Instead, I’ll take it up with Tom, whose non-Asian genes I tend to blame for all of my kids’ problems, real or imagined. My parental anxiety usually makes itself known in the middle of an unrelated discussion, like so:

Tom: “And then there’s, you know, college tuition…and that’s why I think maybe you shouldn’t go to the mall so often.”

Yoona: “Ok, fine. And maybe YOU should work on your table manners, because in case you haven’t noticed, Finn is the only kid his age who eats spaghetti with his hands.”

Tom: (resigned sigh).

Around the age of 5, it apparently becomes imperative for kids to start signing their own names to their friends’ birthday cards. And that’s ok, because Finn can write his name and sound out other words to write when asked. The problem is all the white space on the rest of the card, which, as I’ve gathered from the cards Finn receives, is supposed to be filled by an original artwork of some sort, like a drawing. And so I’ll encourage Finn to draw something, and that’s when things get really scary.

Last weekend, as I watched him scribble yet another amorphous blob in a card for his friend Jordan, I was overcome, first by fear that there was something seriously wrong with my five-year old, and then, by the evil desire to grab the pen, draw something with my left foot, and pass it off as Finn’s handiwork. Resisting the urge, I instead suggested to Finn that he might like to draw another picture to accompany his first, which he did: the same picture that he has been drawing for a year now–a pictogram of a headless person holding a sword and shield.


like a caveman drawing from the paleolithic

He can’t even draw a person with a head!! And he will be six in 8 months! I felt my palms get sweaty as I watched him draw. But then I realized that it wasn’t really panic about Finn that I was feeling, but remembered trauma, from my first Studio Art class at college, when I had a charcoal pencil in my hand and no clue what to do with it. So I exhaled, and focused on the happy movement of Finn’s hands and the jaunty tilt of his head as he scribbled. He was thinking about his drawing and it meant something to him, even if it looked like ass to me.

My competitiveness wasn’t drummed into me by my parents, who, despite being Asian, were never stereotypically so. I want Finn to have drive, but I don’t want him to end up like me or Tom, who once threw a Trivial Pursuit board across the room after losing. I want my kids to be secure and content in the knowledge that things are worth doing, just to do them. In my office, I keep a clumsy drawing of a hat that I did in that first art class, to remind me of the same thing.

With Finn, I try to remember to praise the effort, not the result. And sometimes, after he’s finished something, he will grin at me and say this: “I worked so hard, mama!”

Sounds pretty sweet to me.

30 Comments Post a comment
  1. I just encouraged my kids in whatever they loved, and shared what I loved doing with them. Thank goodness they both love drawing and writing and storytelling, so we could share that. But I’m not musical, and I encouraged them in that because they both enjoyed it. Neither one will be a professional musician, but they have a great way to meet friends and express themselves now.

    I worried a little that the younger one might not be able to keep up with the older one, but they have different strengths and stretched each other in a good way. Now I have a Fulbright scholar and a kid who just got admitted to Stanford with almost a full ride. It’s possible they might yet end up living in our basement, but I’ve learned to go with the flow and not worry too much about it.

    I love your writing style–great blog!

    April 27, 2012
    • i want to produce a fulbright scholar!! even better if all i have to do is go with the flow to get there. thanks for the comment, naomi

      July 26, 2012
  2. OMG, I do the same thing. Why isn’t my kid drawing more representative pictures? Do I need to put her in a class or something? I actually feel better knowing I’m not the only parent having this anxiety. (PS: LOVE his drawing!)

    April 16, 2012
    • i’ve accepted that every day brings a new worry. kind of liberating

      April 18, 2012
  3. HAHA “non-asian” genes. Well, it’s something we Asians have to live with and bear when we have mixed children. 😉 I think he drawing is just adorable! I teach art and used to teach younger kids as well, and children are always at different levels and have different strengths and areas of improvement. Moo is great at reading and drawing but she’s terrible at anything physical! Her gross motor skills are being surpassed by her 3 year old brother at this point, but it’s okay! It’s difficult not to compare ourselves to others or ourselves for that matter. I’m sure one day Finn will grow up to be an amazing artist! Hey if you ever visited MOMA in NYC, you can paint a whole canvas just BLUE and it’s “amazing” art that is worthy to be hung in a museum! LOL

    April 9, 2012
  4. That is a cute picture 🙂 my step-daughter cant do much better and she is 6 so I wouldn’t worry to much about it children develop in their own time xxx

    I would love for you to follow me I’m new to Bloging mine is called My every thing in life

    April 8, 2012
  5. Well, I think that your son’s picture looks like a bird sat on a telephone wire waiting for his friends to join him, after all we all see things in a different way which makes us unique. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we think of his picture, the fact that his picture has provoked a discussion of his artwork purely shows what a great artist he is and will become. I also love children’s art as it reflects their imagination and one day he will look back at his work, (please frame it) and be able to tell you why he chose to draw it. Well done Finn. 🙂

    April 7, 2012
    • your comment reminded me of a montessori article that suggested that instead of praising artwork as “beautiful,” we might use it as an opportunity to ask the kid what he was thinking when he made it. a good reminder for me. thanks, christine.

      April 7, 2012
      • Sorry if I came across as a know it all. It wasn’t a criticism in any way. Just thought how nice the picture was in my opinion. Maybe it’s the teacher in me. Thanks for sharing.:)

        April 8, 2012
  6. Patrick Query #

    His picture looks a bit like Picasso’s drawings of Don Quixote, actually. Go with that.

    April 7, 2012
    • another friend made the same comparison. my kid = picasso. yes. i WILL go with that.

      April 7, 2012
  7. I totally see a plankton soldier/ninja so your kid CAN draw.

    April 7, 2012
    • good call on the ninja, he is super into ninjas, like a good asian kid. i have no idea what a plankton soldier is but i bet finn does? i’ll have to ask!

      April 7, 2012
  8. Jen #

    My just-turned-5 year old loves to draw, and creates elaborate, detailed people and scenes that now she wants to write lengthy captions for herself. Her sister (3 and a half) draws absolutely nothing. Occasionally she scribbles in a half ass way, but she has zero interest in drawing. There is no freaking way she’s going to pass the draw a man test next yer in preschool. I know I shouldn’t be alarmed by this, but sometimes, I can’t stop thinking about it. What does it mean?!? Is there some reason she’s not visually engaged with the world around her? Should I be coaching her? Does she need a tutor, an art class, glasses? I know it’s ridiculous, but the contrast between the two girls sometimes gets the best of me.

    April 6, 2012
    • it’s gotta be natural to compare, especially since the first kid is often the only experience we have with the issues we deal with. but isn’t it awesome to see how different they are sometimes? it just flips me out that tate is so different from finn. but i know exactly what you mean–my brain subconsciously sets every experience i have with finn as the “norm,” and any time tate deviates, it’s hard not to take note.

      April 7, 2012
      • Jen #

        The differences are amazing. When I turn off the anxious competitive part of my brain and just enjoy them as people, they are fascinating and occasionally even endearing 🙂 I blogged about this a little bit on D’s birthday last week I definitely entered parenthood under the illusion that I would be able to shape and guide them, but it turns out I’m more of an observer…

        April 10, 2012
  9. i see a susuwatari (soot sprite) getting ready for battle. and the little wiggle in his trouser leg is a banana for sustenance.

    April 6, 2012
  10. sbt #

    My mom has a portfolio of a whole series of pictures I drew of my dad around age 5. They all – resemble finn’s artwork – except I would dictate picture titles to my mom to print in her neat handwriting under my masterpiece. My mom’s favorite was the blob I titled: “My Dad – but with hair.” He was bald. Incidentally – NOT my dad’s favorite piece of my childhood art.

    April 6, 2012
    • so funny. and that is a brilliant idea about the titles.

      April 6, 2012
  11. nickkahl #


    Don’t fret.

    Finn’s the next Piccaso:

    April 6, 2012
    • shoe suggested motherwell. i am encouraged by both observations

      April 6, 2012
  12. I love that drawing — frame it!

    April 6, 2012
    • even better, jigsaw graphics turned it into stationery for me. but that was months ago. the lack of progress…

      April 6, 2012
  13. Sonya #

    Personally, I think finn’s drawing of the headless swordsman looks like a fabulous piece of ink blot modern art. If you had him do that with a black sharpie on a high quality piece of watercolor paper (the kind with frayed edges) and framed it such that the paper floated against the back matting with a black art frame (ideally square, not rectangular), voila! You’d have inexpensive modern art. Seriously. Have him do 2 and send me one.

    April 6, 2012
    • i can do better than two–i have dozens. but i’m smelling what you’re cookin’ sonya

      April 6, 2012
  14. the speech monster #

    I know that u mean re having kids can b a bear for someone competitive! My son is only 4 months n one time, at 3 months, a friend whose son is exactly the same age as mine told me hers just rolled over (ahead of the curve; rolling iver at 3 months?!!) n mine hadn’t done so. I immediately put my son in his play gym n started training him to turn over. Also started googling facts to make sure my boy wasn’t too behind (not at all).

    Well. Two days later he did n quelled my parental anxiety for a while….

    I wanna blame my Asian genes too but my husband who is also Asian has none of these anxieties about his development. He just wants out son to be of average height. Ok he is constantly measuring him n checking with the height chart to make sure he’s still within 50th percentile.

    Maybe he is conpetitve too just manifests in different departments !

    Remember to praise the efforts not result i love that reminder

    April 6, 2012
    • oh, the height/weight hysteria. that’s a standard dad thing for sure. having two is awesome so you can compare their stats to each other at the same age. the madness!

      April 6, 2012
  15. Jennifer #

    You are hilarious! And btw, I think his drawing is all head with arms and legs, no body. I’ve seen these kinds of 5 year old drawings before. In the evolution of drawing, the head usually comes first.

    April 6, 2012
    • or we could have a head AND body (including inadvertent flaccid penis), sans neck? which would make his rendering complete…

      April 6, 2012

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